Reasons to remain in the European Union

Published on May 20, 2019

1) The EU is history's most successful peace project

The EU was created to ensure peace in a continent torn by centuries of conflict that culminated in WW2. Within the European Economic Area, there has been no war since 1945; this peace, known as Pax Europaea (European peace), is the longest since the end of Pax Romana in 180 CE. For this achievement, the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2012.

The generation born after WW2 is the first in almost two thousand years to have seen no war in Western Europe. But, for the UK, peace has been relative. Although not a full-scale war, the Troubles killed more than 3,500 people. After 30 years of turmoil, the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998, creating stability, peace, and prosperity in Northern Ireland. The absence of a physical border is a crucial part of this peace process.


The Irish Border first became an international frontier in 1923, following the partition of Ireland. For the next 70 years, all trade was subject to customs control. In 1932-1936, the Economic War between Britain and Ireland reduced cross-border trade by two thirds. With the start of the Troubles in 1969, the Border became a frontline, guarded by British army watchtowers. Border posts were regularly attacked. Hundreds of roads were closed during the Troubles, cutting off communities on either side.


The launch of the European Single Market in 1993 put an end to customs posts between the Republic and Northern Ireland. Five years later, the Good Friday Agreement was signed. The Border became invisible, and the economies of Northern Ireland and the Republic became closely interconnected.


Now, Brexit threatens to turn the Irish Border into a European Union frontier. Border checks would be required, because the UK would no longer be bound by EU regulations on goods, meaning it could produce or resell food and medicine banned in the EU. A return to the frontiers of the past, unthinkable in continental Europe, would become a reality in post-Brexit Ireland.


When it was signed, the Good Friday Agreement presupposed that Ireland and the UK would continue to be members of the EU, that everybody north and south of the Border would have the same rights, and that both countries would follow the same ‘EU policies and programmes’. The European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) was nominated as a safeguard for the Agreement. However, withdrawal from the EU removes the obligation on the UK to remain a party to the ECHR, and the UK’s constitutional flexibility means any rights are at the mercy of changing parliamentary majorities.


Ref: Pax Europaea - Wikipedia; A history of Ireland for outsiders; The Good Friday Agreement – full text; Brief Guide to Brexit and the Irish Border Problem – The University of Liverpool; The Good Friday Agreement, Brexit, and Rights; Leaving the European Union – Impact on the Good Friday Agreement; The Impact and Consequences of Brexit for Northern Ireland; Brexit, the island of Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement.



2) We have a better chance of stopping climate change while we are in the EU

Humanity is at a crossroads – do we have the will and the ability to stop global warming, or do we condemn our children and grandchildren to a deteriorating world and the threat of extinction? Scientists have given us 10 years to prevent irreversible damage to our planet.


According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) (1), the goals of the Paris Agreement are barely adequate; yet, implementation has been falling short. Instead of diminishing, carbon dioxide emissions continue to increase. In 2018, global energy-related CO2emissions rose 1.7% to reach a historic high (2); China, India, and the US accounted for most of the increase, while Germany, France, and the UK registered declining emissions. The EU leads the developed world in climate change, but it still is below target (3). To reach net zero emissions by 2050 will not be easy. Heavy industry, in particular, will require sizeable investments in new technology (4).


Within the EU, the UK has been viewed as a global leader on climate change. As such, it has been the recipient of substantial EU funding for climate research (5). Access to European information networks and participation in regional climate projects has been an important asset for our scientists. Post-Brexit, both the funding and the cooperation with other countries may cease.


Climate change is a global phenomenon that cannot be solved in isolation. This is a time for countries to work together with focus and efficiency. Within the EU, the UK should be among the countries demanding firmer climate action. As an EU Member State, the UK has a stronger voice in the international arena (5), and a united, stable EU has a greater chance of inspiring the rest of the world to action.


Post-Brexit, the UK will have no say in the EU and will participate in international negotiations as a solitary nation, with a smaller voice and fewer allies. Reducing our own emissions will not stop global warming while other large countries fill our planet’s atmosphere with CO2. In a worst-case scenario, we could end up with a climate-sceptic government closely allied to the US and, following Donald Trump’s example, our country's leaders could decide to pull out of the Paris Agreement.


Not for nothing has the ‘climate-sceptic’ movement been dubbed ‘Clexit’. Brexit and Clexit have much in common. They both mock experts and dismiss their research, they both appeal to the older generation more than to the young, and they both have a right-wing, neoliberal agenda. What is more, they share the same leaders. Nigel Lawson, former chairman of the Vote Leave campaign, is the founder of the climate-sceptic Global Warming Policy Foundation. Hardline Brexiteer Boris Johnson has repeatedly mocked climate-change (7).


The siren song of the climate-sceptic populists may sound enticing. Human beings are masters of wishful-thinking. If a certain outcome goes against our interests, denial is the obvious solution. Industrialists do not wish to see their profits slip; ordinary people do not want to change their lifestyle. Governments and parties are primarily interested in winning the next elections. The risks of climate change may seem far away. Yet, in his paper What Lies Beneath (6), world-leading atmospheric physicist and climatologist Hans Joachim Schellnhuber says that scientists have actually underplayed risks, that the IPCC prefers to err on the side of ‘least drama’, that it is under pressure from political and vested interests, and that its reports are already out of date upon release.


If we wish to avert the worst catastrophe the planet has known since the end of the Cretaceous period 66 million years ago, we must all work together – individuals, scientists, governments, international organisations. When it comes to global warming, nationality is irrelevant.


Ref: (1) Global Warming of 1.5 ºC – IPCC Special Report, Oct 2018; (2) Global Energy & CO2 Status Report – IEA; (3) Climate Action Tracker; (4) Industrial Transformation 2050 – Material Economics; (5) Brexit: environment and climate change – House of Lords; (6) What Lies Beneath; (7) Boris Johnson – DesmogUK.



3) The future is about interconnection, not isolation

Thanks to the digital and telecommunications revolution, our world is becoming increasingly interconnected. Sovereignty in isolation is meaningless. Power comes from cooperation, from being part of the international debate, from having a hand in shaping the global direction of travel. Sitting at the EU’s decision-making table gives us the power to influence our continent’s future.


Although a late joiner, the UK has played its part in the development of the EU. A Briton, Henry Plumb, held the post of President of the European Parliament from 1987 to 1989. But one of the UK's greatest achievements was the transformation of the European Economic Community (EEC) into the European Union: Arthur Cockfield, a Dover-born Briton, was the architect of the single market. His White Paper, published in 1985, set out the framework and timetable. “Europe stands at the crossroads,” Cockfield wrote. “We either go ahead with resolution and determination – or we drop back into mediocrity.” Cockfield’s plan was implemented on schedule, with the economic community becoming a single market in 1993 and being renamed European Union. Cockfield described the process in a book titled The European Union: Creating the Single Market.


The EU is the first example in history where nations with different languages and cultures work together as equals to create an internationally meaningful entity in a world where the small, separate European states would be dwarfed by giants such as the USA, Russia, China – and the up-and-coming India and Brazil.

Inability to share makes us weak. Dwelling in a past where nations were either conqueror or conquered, empire or colony, will turn us into a backwater country.

If the UK reneges on the Good Friday Agreement, the UK’s international standing will collapse; unlike Brexiteers seem to believe, the Agreement is not an internal British deal, but a binding international treaty between two sovereign governments registered with the United Nations.

Brexit is already costing Britain automatic EU support at the UN. Since the Referendum, the UK's “aura” has been “dimming” in the UN General Assembly. Damage to our reputation means less chance of winning internationally important positions.


Ref: Henry Plumb - WikipediaArthur Cockfield – Creator of the European Single Market; The European Union: Creating the Single Market – Lord Cockfield; Completing the Internal Market – White Paper from the Commission to the European CouncilImpact of the UK’s Withdrawal on EU IntegrationThe truth about sovereignty; Brexit weakens Britain’s influence at the UN – The Economist.


4) Freedom and democracy are at the heart of the EU

The EU upholds the free movement of goods, capital, services, and people. These “four freedoms” are the cornerstones of the single market. They allow businesses to trade freely and talent to move across borders. They promote a richer, more cosmopolitan society where we can all learn from each other.

Unlike other international bodies (such as the UN Security Council), all 28 EU Member States participate in the decision-making process. Checks and balances have been built in over the years to respect national interests on the one hand and to effectively benefit the community on the other. This has resulted in a structure criticised by many for being too complex. There have been calls for simplification, but this is no easy task. While reform may bring improvement, the EU is complex exactly because it needs to be effective and inclusive at the same time (1).

On the other hand, the EU’s institutions and procedures are not beyond the comprehension of its citizens. The information is available. Unfortunately, the lack of education, both in schools and in society, has meant that few people know how the EU works – and lack of knowledge naturally breeds distrust.

The truth is, democracy is at the heart of the EU. The European Parliament, the European Council, the European Commission, and the Council of the European Union (aka Council of Ministers) are either democratically elected or appointed by democratically elected governments. Only democracies can be members of the EU (2) (3) (4):


  •      The European Council is made up of the 28 heads of state. It meets on a regular basis four times a year and is responsible for major decisions such as treaty changes, foreign relations, security and fiscal matters, and setting the EU's political directions and priorities. All such decisions require the unanimous agreement of all Member States; therefore, any member can veto a decision.
  • The European Commission is the EU's executive arm, comprising 28 Commissioners appointed for five-year terms by their respective governments. It turns the consensus objectives of the European Council into legislative proposals, and it is accountable to the European Parliament. The Commissioners are assisted by civil servants (bureaucrats) who are, by their very nature, unelected. The EU has around 33,000 civil servants – far less than the 430,000 employed by theBritish government (5) (6).
  •      The European Parliament consists of 751 members elected by direct universal suffrage. It amends, approves, or rejects the Commission's proposals and provides guidelines to the Commission. The UK has 73 seats, therefore almost a 10% voice in a group of 28 countries.
  • The Council of the European Union is made up of 28 ministers, one from each Member State, but its composition changes frequently, as governments send different representatives depending on the policies under discussion. This Council works with the European Parliament in amending, approving, or rejecting legislation; its decisions require a qualified majority (at least 55% of Member States representing 65% of the EU's population), or unanimity (in the case of taxation and social policy, for example), or a simple majority for procedural issues.

Ref: (1) The EU is extraordinarily complex. But do we want to simplify it? – LSE; (2) Institutions of the European Union - Wikipedia; (3) European Union - Encyclopaedia Britannica; (4) European Union institutions and bodies - Europa; (5) Is the European Union governed by ‘unelected bureaucrats’? – LSE; (6) Civil Service statistics – ONS.

5) The EU has made travel accessible to a wider public

For British people wishing to holiday abroad, EU membership has made travelling to Europe much easier and more affordable, with low-cost airfares, no mobile roaming charges, standardised driving licences, motor insurance coverage, European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC), cross-border patients’ rights, EU pet passports, portable pensions, visa-free/permit-free travel, and simplified border controls.


In 1993, the EU dismantled national barriers to air travel and opened Europe’s air transport to competition, merging the many bilateral deals between states into one. With more airlines and routes available, travel around Europe become much cheaper.


Mobile phone costs for travellers in Europe were high until 2007, when the EU set a cap on mobile roaming charges. In 2017, the EU ruled that phone companies should remove all data and call roaming fees, and the EEA became a single market for electronic communications.


Under the EU’s 2009 motor insurance directive, anyone holding a compulsory motor insurance policy in an EU Member State is covered throughout the EU. In the event of an accident, claims and compensation are settled far more quickly and easily than in the case of other foreign nationals.


In 2006, the EU adopted a Directive creating a single European driving licence to replace the various models existing throughout Member States. This took effect in January 2013. Non-EU citizens (which we would be post-Brexit), need an International Driving Permit for some countries such as Spain, and must obtain a local licence, often entailing a driving test, if staying for more than 6 months in any European country.

Ref: Aviation: European liberalisation, 1986-2002 – Parliament.ukAirline liberalisation – EuropaEuropean experience of air transport liberalization  ICAO; How Brexit will send flight prices soaring higher – New Statesman; European Union roaming regulations  Wikipedia; European Health Insurance Card –; Will the EHIC be valid after Brexit? – BBC; Prepare to drive in the EU after Brexit –; European driving licence – Wikipedia; Visit Europe after Brexit – gov.ukMotor insurance – Europa.

6) Britons are free to live, work, love, study, and retire throughout the EU

There are about three-quarters of a million Britons working in the EU 27 countries, plus one-quarter of a million pensioners.


Thanks to the free movement of people, retiring to another EU country is cheap and easy. Britons have been able to do so without the bureaucratic application procedures, health insurance, and proof of income that are required of third-country citizens. For non-EU citizens, the amount of income needed to settle in the EU varies, being often decided by local authorities. Together with the obligatory private health insurance, it would preclude retirees on a low pension from living in another country.


British students wishing to travel and learn a second language, or those who cannot afford England’s university fees, have had the option of studying in one of the 11 EU countries where tuition is free of charge, or in countries where it is cheaper (England being the most expensive place to study in Europe), as EU regulations prohibit discrimination among EU students. Degrees from EU universities are considered equal, and qualifications are recognised across borders.


The EU-funded Erasmus programme allows students and teachers to attend courses abroad for up to one year, covering education, training, and sport. It aims to boost skills and employability, promote social inclusion, provide intercultural experience, and ensure that young people learn to think critically.


Ref: Migrant stock – UN Population Division; British residents living in the EU, ONS, April 2018; Tuition fees around Europe – Europa; University fees and financial help – Europa; Where can UK students study for free, BBC; British Student Mobility; Erasmus Programme – Wikipedia.



7) The UK profits from EU migrants

I have always thought of the EU as a family of countries helping each other, where disagreements could be solved with a little goodwill. I also thought that the free movement of people was a way to help less affluent countries while they were growing their economy. As I discovered, the opposite is true.


EU migrants are generally young, healthy, and hard-working. As such, they contribute more than they consume in health and social services. A government-commissioned study published in June 2018 found that EU migrants in the UK contribute £2,300/year more to public finances than the average UK resident (1) – while non-EU migrants contribute £840/year less than average, due to lower employment rates.


With 2.92 million adult EU migrants, the combined net fiscal benefit to the UK from EU migrants is in the region of £6.7 billion a year. The UK’s net contribution to the EU is on average £8.1 billion a year (2). Therefore, paradoxically, EU migrants are effectively paying 83% of our EU membership costs.


Often, unskilled migrants perform jobs that are unattractive to locals. Food production, agriculture, and mining have greatly benefitted from the free movement of people. For example, some agricultural sectors in the UK saw a dramatic increase in productivity after the start of Eastern European migration in 2004. Studies by the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC), the Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS), the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), the London School of Economics (LSE), and other economists have all found that immigration has a positive impact on productivity. (3) (4) (5) (6) (7). More productivity means more jobs. Skilled migrants bring new ideas and complementary expertise to the workplace. This allows employers to expand their businesses and create employment opportunities for local workers.


In fact, numerous studies have demonstrated that immigration has no statistically significant impact (negative or positive) on unemployment rates or wages (4) (3); both are affected by economic highs and lows, not by immigration.


Throughout history, migrants have been used as scapegoats. They are easy targets when people and governments seek to deflect blame. Xenophobia is defined as the fear, hatred, or mistrust of that which is foreign, especially strangers or people from different countries or cultures.


To become a member of the EU, countries must comply with certain standards – such as democracy, rule of law, human rights, respect for and protection of minorities, and a functioning market economy. This, together with centuries of shared history, means EU citizens have a lot in common.


Compared with other EU Member States, the UK is by no means the one with the highest proportion of migrants (8) (9):

  • In terms of total migrants per population, the UK ranks 11thafter Luxembourg, Estonia, Latvia, Austria, Sweden, Ireland, Cyprus, Germany, Croatia, and Spain.
  •      In terms of EU migrants per population, the UK ranks 9thafter Luxembourg, Ireland, Austria, Cyprus, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, and Malta.
  •      In terms of non-EU migrants per population, the UK ranks 13thafter Estonia, Latvia, Croatia, Sweden, Austria, Cyprus, Spain, Lithuania, Netherlands, France, Slovenia, and Greece.


It should be noted that EU citizens make up only 38% of all immigrants in the UK, being 3.3 million in total, as opposed to 5.5 million non-EU migrants.

Even after the accession of Eastern Europe in 2004, new immigration from non-EU countries was higher than from EU countries. Between 2005 and 2017, non-EU migrants increased by 1.5 million, while EU migrants increased by 1.4 million. Furthermore, the number of Eastern European migrants will dwindle as soon as these countries grow economically.

Since the UK is not in the Schengen area, all non-EU citizens must undergo immigration control; therefore, the influx of non-EU migrants to the UK has nothing to do with our EU membership.


Ref: (1) The Fiscal Impact of Immigration on the UK, Oxford Economics, June 2018; (2) The UK contribution to the EU budget; (3) EEA migration in the UK – MAC; (4) Impacts of migrant workers on UK businesses – BIS; (5) Off EU Go? Brexit, the UK Labour Market and Immigration – IFS; (6) Brexit and the Impact of Immigration on the UK – LSE; (7) The economic impacts of immigration to the UK; (8) Population and immigration statistics – UN; (9) Immigration Data Analysis.

8) EU membership attracts investment to the UK

The UK has been one of the biggest recipients of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) among major advanced economies. According to UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), in 2015 the UK had an estimated FDI stock of over £1 trillion. About half of this amount came from other EU countries. The two main reasons that have made the UK attractive to investors are:

  •      the ‘Free movement of capital’ (one of the EU’s ‘four freedoms’) makes it easier for investors from other EU states to invest in the UK;
  •      the UK is an attractive platform for multinationals wanting to trade with the rest of the EU. To quote Bill Gates – who invested $1bn into research facilities near Cambridge – “outside of Europe, [Britain] will be a significantly less attractive place to do business”.


The threat of Brexit has had a negative impact on both FDI and business investment. For example:

  •      According to a 2017 study by the London School of Economics, EU membership normally boosts FDI flows for any country by 14% - 38%. Brexit, the study said, would reduce UK FDI by up to 22%.
  •      In October 2018, the UK Trade Policy Observatory (UKTPO) found that the leave vote had reduced UK FDI inflows by about 16-20%.
  •      ONS data published in March 2019 shows business investment dropping for four consecutive quarters in 2018. Quarter-on-quarter, it slipped by 0.4% in Q1, 0.7% in Q2, 1.1% in Q3, and 0.9% in Q4. This is the longest decline since 2009.

Ref: Understanding the economic impact of Brexit – Institute for Government; Business investment in the UK – ONS; FDI inflows since the Brexit referendum – UKTPO.

9) EU membership strengthens our economy

Almost all economists agree that staying in the EU would be better for our economy in the medium- and long-term. The only study that predicts a gain was carried out by the Economists for Free Trade (EFT), previously called Economists for Brexit. The EFT predicted that the UK economy could be 4% larger after 15 years of leaving the EU. All other 15-year forecasts have been negative, with the economy expected to contract by up to 18% (1).


The EFT’s prediction assumes:

1) no increase in trade barriers with the EU,

2) a large reduction in trade barriers with non-EU countries,

3) that the UK Government will make widespread changes to regulatory policy.


The first assumption disregards the EU’s three ‘Interlaken principles’ (see De Clercq 1987) whereby, in any dealings with a third country, EU integration comes first, the community’s decision-making autonomy must be preserved, and there must always be a balance of benefits and obligations (2) (3). A non-member country will not enjoy the same benefits as a member country – nobody can ‘have the cake and eat it too.’


The second assumption is considered over-optimistic by most economists; international trade deals can take years to negotiate. Moreover, if the UK is seen as reneging on its international peace agreement in Ireland (the Good Friday Agreement), most countries will be reluctant to sign any trade agreements with the UK.


The third assumption would remove or water down our human rights, workers’ rights, consumers’ health and safety, and environmental protection.


Other points to consider:

  •      In the 1970s, the UK asked to join the EU to avoid economic decline. Its per-capita GDP relative to that of the EU founding members had been decreasing steadily – from being 28% higher than the EU6 average in 1950, it was 10% lower in 1973. After it joined the EU, the UK’s relative GDP per capita stabilised (4).
  •      The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) suggests that the net benefit of EU membership to the UK could be in the region of 4-5% of GDP a year (£62-£78 billion) (5).
  • In June 2018, the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that, in 2016-2017, the UK’s GDP had grown less than expected while in other Eurozone countries it had grown well above forecasts (6). The Centre for European Reform (CER) estimated the loss of income as £23 billion per annum (£440 million a week). Over the 148 weeks from June 2016 to April 2019, this amounts to £65 billion (7).
  •      By February 2019, the estimates had worsened. The Bank of England said the Leave vote was costing the UK around £40 billion a year (£800 million per week) in lost income. Over the 148 weeks from June 2016 to April 2019, this amounts to £118 billion (8).
  •      Low GDP growth means less money for social services (including the NHS), which are already stretched from the aftermath of the 2008 recession and the effects of austerity measures.


Ref: (1) Understanding the economic impact of Brexit – Institute for Government; (2) Back to the Future? Lessons of Differentiated Integration; (3) Address by Mr De Clercq at the EC-EFTA Ministerial Meeting. Interlaken 1987; (4) Why did Britain join the EU? – VOX CEPR; (5) Benefits of EU Membership outweigh costs – CBI; (6) The economic impacts of the Leave vote two years on, – Institute for Fiscal Studies; (7) What’s the cost of Brexit so far?; (8) The Economic Outlook – Bank of England, Feb 2019.



10) The EU has been good for business

The free movement of goods and our geographical proximity have made the EU our biggest trade partner. In 2018, 49.3% of all UK goods export went to the EU, and 54% of all goods imported to the UK came from the EU.


Trade within the EU is fast and seamless, which is crucial for business. Thanks to the single market, the British manufacturing industry has had access to European-wide supply chains. Indeed, a large portion of the UK’s trade with the EU is for inputs to industries rather than for direct consumption. This is especially true in the pharmaceutical, automotive, and aircraft sectors.

There have been many unfounded notions regarding the impact of leaving the EU; on its website, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) debunks 14 Brexit myths associated with the automotive industry.


Besides the benefits of free trade, businesses point out other advantages to being part of the EU, such as:

  •      UK-based manufacturers of clothing and textiles have been able to sell a lot of their output to the EU thanks to the absence of tariffs (which are high for third countries selling these products to the EU).
  •      Free movement of labour helps UK business plug skills gaps.
  •      Elimination of customs procedures simplifies trade.
  •      Product regulation and standardisation facilitate market access.


Ref: UK trade: January 2019, ONS; Benefits of EU Membership outweigh costs, CBI; Automotive Brexit myths – busted.



11) The EU has been good for workers

Compared to the rest of the world, the EU offers better protection for workers. A significant number of the UK’s employment regulations come from the EU – and, most importantly, our EU membership acts as a safeguard for workers beyond the uncertainties of changing parliamentary majorities.


Post-Brexit, workers’ rights may be removed or watered down by the current or by future governments. The Conservative Party has always favoured deregulation. If we distance ourselves from the EU and forge closer ties with the US, we are likely to adopt a more US-like approach to workers’ rights. In the US, annual leave is at the discretion of employers; workers have no legal right to paid leave. People in the US work among the longest hours per week in the industrialized world. Just as they have no statutory paid leave or maximum hours, they also have no pregnant workers’ rights or paid time off for child care.


EU Directives protecting workers include: the Employment Contract Information Directive, the Pregnant Workers Directive, the Working Time Directive, the Young Workers Directive, the Parental Leave Directive, and the Part-Time Work Directive.


The EU’s 1993/2003 Working Time Directive (1) aims to protect workers’ health and safety by establishing minimum requirements such as:

  1. A working time limit of 48 hours per week, averaged out over 4 months or more;
  2. An uninterrupted daily rest period of 11 hours;
  3. A 24-hours weekly rest period tagged onto an 11-hour daily rest period (totalling 35-hours), averaged out over 2 weeks;
  4. A rest break if the working day is longer than 6 hours;
  5. Paid annual leave of at least 4 weeks (20 days) a year;
  6. For night workers, shifts of no more than 8 hours on average and free health assessments.



The Working Time Directive allows Member States to adopt conditional exemptions and derogations for certain sectors (such as the armed forces and the police), for certain activities, and for individual workers who can choose to voluntarily opt out of the 48-hour week.


As soon as it was tabled in 1990, the Directive was met with outright hostility on the part of the British government (2). The Conservative Party, in power at the time, held Eurosceptic and neo-liberal economic views. Because of its deregulation policies, the UK was, in the early 90s, the only EU country with no statutory annual leave or working time limits. And, because of the prevailing ‘long-hours culture’, many UK workers regularly worked more than 48 hours a week. Therefore, implementation of the Directive would require substantial reforms and costs. During the lengthy 3-year negotiations, the UK’s strategy was marked by a ‘desire to have a Directive that applies to as few people as possible and gives them as few rights as possible’ (Interview GB4: 588-9). In 1994, the UK tried to get the European Court of Justice to annul the Directive, but the attempt was unsuccessful.


Annual leave was first introduced in Europe around the 1920s in Germany, Austria, and Finland. Italy legalised annual leave in 1927, Spain in 1931, France and Belgium in 1936, and Sweden in 1938 (3) (4) (5). In the UK, the Holidays with Pay Act 1938, which gave some workers (but not all) a small amount of paid holiday, was repealed in 1975 (6). The UK still ranks low in the EU in terms of annual leave, for although it has increased the number of days to 28 from the 20 specified in the Directive, other EU countries have increased theirs by more (7).


Leaving the EU will not only jeopardise workers’ rights but will also cause widespread job losses, especially in manufacturing. For example, several car manufacturers have announced plans to reduce or close production because of Brexit (8). Even a Brexit economist, Professor Minford, has admitted that by leaving the EU we will be “running down” the UK auto industry. He told a parliamentary committee: “It will be in your interests to do it, just as in the same way we ran down the coal and steel industries. These things happen as evolution takes place in your economy.” (9) Yet, with an £82 billion turnover, the UK automotive industry employs 856,000 people – of which 186,000 in manufacturing – and accounts for 12% of UK exports (10) (11).



Ref: (1) Working Time Directive – Europa; (2) Complying with Europe: EU Harmonisation and Soft Law in the Member States; (3) The first paid holidays; (4) Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands; (5) An Economic History of Sweden; (6) Holidays With Pay Act 1938; (7) List of minimum annual leave by country; (8) Brexit and the UK car industry – Car Magazine; (9) UK Automotive Industry: Job Losses – House of Commons; (10) Brexit To Destroy U.K. Car Manufacturing – Forbes; (11) UK Automotive – SMMT.

12) Women’s rights are a founding principle of the EU

Basic women’s rights were included in the Treaty of Rome, signed by the 6 founding members of the EEC in 1957 – Article 119 stipulated that men and women should receive equal pay for equal work (1).


It took another 18 years for this basic right to be recognised in the UK, although women had been demanding equal pay since the 1800s (2). Finally, faced with strikes and demonstrations, and having applied for membership of the EEC in 1969, the UK passed an Equal Pay Act in 1970, this being one of the conditions necessary to become a Member State. The 1970 Equal Pay Act, however, did not come into force until 1976, allowing employers time to make ‘adjustments’ and re-grade jobs to minimise payment increases for women workers.


In the following years, the EU continued to promote gender pay equality through directives on equal treatment in employment and training, equal treatment for part-time workers, maternity rights, and parental leave. Much of this legislation had a stronger impact on the UK than on other Member States because employment rights were still relatively underdeveloped in UK (3).


Parental leave regulation has a long history. The EU’s first attempt at formulating a Directive on parental leave, in 1983, met with opposition mainly from the UK, and had to be shelved. A new compromise proposal by Belgium, approved by all other Member States, was blocked by a British veto in 1994 after a year of fruitless negotiations. Finally, in 1996, the Parental Leave Directive was adopted by all Member States – except the UK – under the Social Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty, as the UK had opted out of the Treaty’s social provisions. The Blair government abolished this opt-out on coming to power in the 1997, and the Directive was incorporated into UK law in 1999 (4).


Since implementation, the minimum requirements of the Parental Leave Directive have been exceeded in all EU countries, but the UK has among the least favourable conditions (5). Parental leave generally refers to employment-protected leave of absence supplementary to maternity and paternity leave. It is either unpaid (as in the UK), or paid through public funds or contributory insurance funds. In some countries, parental leave replaces maternity and paternity leave.


The UK also opposed the EU’s Pregnant Worker Directive in 1992, and it had to be watered down before it could be passed. Since then, all EU countries have exceeded the original Directive, including the UK, where total maternity leave is one of the longest but decently paid maternity leave is one of the shortest (6).


Considering the UK government’s opposition to the Pregnant Worker Directive and to the Parental Leave Directive, we can expect these regulations to become watered down post-Brexit – especially if the UK government decides to copy the US, where maternity leave is at the discretion of employers, who 40% of the time grant no leave at all forcing mothers to return to work too soon. The most prominent Leave Campaigners favour deregulation, and the UK’s withdrawal from the EU threatens the more vulnerable sectors of society as layers of protection are likely to be stripped away (7).


Ref: (1) The Treaty of Rome 1957; (2) Historical Introduction to the Campaign for Equal Pay; (3) Equal Pay and Europe; (4) Transforming Social Policy in Europe? The EC’s Parental Leave Directive and Misfit in the 15 Member States; (5) Paternity and parental leave policies across the European Union, 2018; (6) Cross-country comparisons – Maternity Leave; (7) Strategic Silences in the Brexit Debate: Gender, Marginality and Governance.



13) The EU provides a platform against discrimination

The EU provides a platform for groups that are silenced and marginalised at the national level. Since the 1957 Treaty of Rome, the EU has striven to prevent discrimination based on gender and nationality. The Treaty of Amsterdam (Article 13), signed by all Member States in 1997, granted the EU powers to also combat discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age, and sexual orientation (1). As a result, two Directives were issued in 2000 (2): the Racial Equality Directive (banning racial discrimination), and the Employment Equality Directive (which is about equal treatment in employment and training irrespective of religion, disability, age, or sexual orientation).


The UK already had pre-existing laws against discrimination based on race and disability, but implementation was sometimes ineffective (eg: Weaver v NATFHE and Clark v TDG Ltd) (3). Only in 2003, following the EU directives, did the government legislate on employment equality in relation to sexual orientation and religion or belief. In 2006, discrimination on the grounds of age became illegal (4). The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) was established with Equality Act 2006. Finally, the Equality Act 2010 consolidated and codified the numerous anti-discrimination laws.


EU laws have also made it easier for victims of discrimination to obtain justice, by shifting some of the burden of proof in discrimination cases to the alleged perpetrator (5).


Ref: (1) Treaty establishing the European Community (Amsterdam consolidated version); (2) Equality: EU rules to tackle discrimination; (3) The Anti-Racism Myth: A Flight into the Cuckoo’s Nest; (4) The Road is Long: Thirty Years of Equality Legislation in Britain; (5) Handbook on European non-discrimination law, 2018.



14) Human rights are better safeguarded in the EU

EU citizens have an additional layer of protection: they are protected by the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, as well as by their own national laws. The Charter consolidates in a single document all the personal, civic, political, economic, and social rights of EU citizens. It covers some rights not included in the UK’s Human Rights Act – such as the rights of the child and a general right to non-discrimination. The Charter also provides a stronger way of enforcing human rights than the Human Rights Act. It also offers a guarantee in case a future government should seek to repeal or weaken human rights.


The Government’s White Paper in March 2017 states that, in a post-Brexit scenario, EU laws will be preserved “wherever possible,” and until “legislators in the UK decide otherwise.”

In January 2018, the government voted not to retain the European Charter of Fundamental Rights in UK law after we leave the EU.

Ref: What does Brexit mean for equality and human rights in the UK; EU Withdrawal Bill: Bleak day for human rights.



15) Our NHS and care sector are safer in the EU

Challenges facing the NHS include financial shortages and an ageing population. Our social care and healthcare have benefited from our EU membership in many ways, including:


  •      Care workis demanding and lowly paid – not an attractive combination for most workers. The UK already suffers from a shortage of care workers, and the number of people aged over 65 is set to increase by 44% between now and 2035. EU workers have helped fulfil staffing needs, with 104,000 care jobs held by EU nationals in January 2019.
  •      Migrants make up a considerable proportion of NHS staff. In 2018, there were 63,065EU citizens working for the NHS, including 20,276 nurses (6.8% of all nursing staff) and 10,686 hospital doctors (9.7% of all hospital doctors). Free movement of labour has made it easier for the NHS to recruit staff – and the UK has an escalating shortage of nurses. Quarterly advertised full-time nursing staff vacancies were approximately 35,000 in 2018, up from 17,000 in 2014, 10,000 in 2009, and 3,000 in 2006.
  •      Medicinal andpharmaceutical products are the second largest source of imports and exports in the UK. In 2018, the UK imported approximately £24.7bn worth medicinal & pharmaceutical products (down 11.1% from £27.3 in 2017), and exported £24.7bn (down 9.3% from £27.7bn in 2017). The sector is part of a heavily integrated EU supply chain that relies on the friction-free transfer of ingredients and finished products to ensure access to medicines across the continent.
  •      The UK has been a major net beneficiary ofEU funding for research, and has gained from the teamwork opportunities offered by EU programmes – e.g. Horizon 2020.
  •      Patients across the European Union, including the UK, benefit greatly from theclose collaboration between medical researchers who investigate, develop, and test new treatments on an EU-wide basis.
  •      European Reference Networks (ERNs) arevirtual networks of healthcare providers from across Europe working together to find solutions for rare and complex conditions, offering hope to millions of patients across Europe.
  •      Austerity measures have reduced public funding to the NHS, and several high-ranking MPs have advocated its privatisation. Although the NHS was one of the first universal healthcare systems in the world, many EU countries are now investing more than the UK in their public health. The UK ranks 10th among EU Member States in terms of healthcare expenditure per capita, placing it slightly above the EU average. If we leave the EU and forge a closer bond with the US, we can expect the neo-liberal Brexit trend to gradually push the NHS towards aprivate, insurance-based healthcare system modelled after the US.



Ref: Health at a Glance: Europe 2018, OECD; Government must act now to keep EU care staff, Age UK; NHS Vacancy Statistics; NHS staff from overseas; UK EU Life Sciences Transition Programme Report; Brexit and the implications for UK business: Pharmaceuticals inquiry; Trade in goods, country-by-commodity, ONS; Why we love the NHS - Daily Telegraph 4 October 1999; Direct Democracy: An Agenda for a New Model Party – text; Direct Democracy: An Agenda for a New Model Party – book; Jeremy Hunt co-authored book – Independent; The triple threat to working people; Health expenditure per capita – OECD

16) Neglected, deprived parts of the UK receive EU funding

Most of the EU budget goes to help agriculture as well as deprived areas that national governments tend to overlook. The aim is to work against the unequal sharing of money and power between rural areas and urban centres.

If we remained in the EU, the UK would be entitled to approximately 13bn euros of regional development funding for the 2021-2027 period, a 22% increase compared to 2014-2020. This increase can largely be explained by the fact many areas of the UK are falling behind the EU average in terms of regional prosperity due to the austerity measures.

The five regions that would benefit the most are Cornwall & the Isles of Scilly, West Wales & the Valleys, South Yorkshire, Tees Valley & Durham, and Lincolnshire. The UK Stronger Towns Fund offered by the current government is a fraction of the amount these areas would receive if we remained in the EU.


Ref: UK entitled to €13bn regional funding if it remains in EU, CPMR, Jan 2019; UK Stronger Towns Fund only 10% of what UK would receive from EU Cohesion funds


This piece was originally posted here. Lucie Palmer is a member of European Movement.

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